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Rheumatoid Arthritis- Battle Inside the Body

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

RA the Attack Mode

The disease attacks the body in a symmetric pattern.

The disease attacks the body in a symmetric pattern.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Factors

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a serious autoimmune disease in which your white blood cells do not differentiate healthy tissue from invading organisms like bacteria. The end result is you have a multi-system disease that can attack virtually every organ in your body, and it is particularly painful as it causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues.

Patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in the US number about 2.1 million people. The condition attacks the synovium first, a connective tissue membrane that lines the cavity between joints that secretes a lubricating fluid. Joint damage may begin 3 months after the initial diagnosis.

There is also juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that also causes joint inflammation and stiffness that may occur 6 weeks in children under the age of 16. It affects approximately 50,000 children in the US. Many children do not complain of pain, but any joint can be affected, and the inflammation causes redness, swelling, warmth, and soreness in the joints.

Risk factors:

  1. Sex: Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men.
  2. Age: Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60
  3. Family history: If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of the disease. Doctors don't believe you can directly inherit rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, it's believed that you can inherit a predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis.
  4. Smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Quitting can reduce your risk.

Compare Xrays to See Damage

Xray of healthy hand and one with RA

Xray of healthy hand and one with RA

RA Symptoms

The disease usually begins with the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Morning stiffness (lasting more than 1 hour)
  • Widespread muscle aches
  • Weakness

Gradually, the joint pain will appear and when you haven’t used that joint for a while it can become warm, tender to touch and stiff. Then, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed giving off fluid and the joint becomes swollen.

Usually, both sides of the body are affected and the lining of the joints may include fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, toes and neck. That doesn’t leave out much. Joint destruction may occur 1-2 years after the onset of the disease. It is a painful and very uncomfortable disease.

Additional symptoms that may occur:

  • Anemia due to failure of the bone marrow to produce enough new red blood cells
  • Eye burning, itching, and discharge
  • Hand and feet deformities
  • Limited range of motion
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lung inflammation (pleurisy)
  • Nodules under the skin (usually a sign of more severe disease)
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Paleness
  • Skin redness or inflammation
  • Swollen glands

Joint Swelling

RA Diagnosis

The diagnosis of this disease is a little easier than the one for lupus as there is a specific blood test for RA called the anti-CCP antibody test. There are other tests that are usually done in conjunction with the blood test and they include:

  • Complete blood count
  • C-reactive protein
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Joint ultrasound or MRI
  • Joint x-rays
  • Rheumatoid factor test (positive in about 75% of people with symptoms)
  • Synovial fluid analysis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

No Known Cause & Treatment of Symptoms

There is no known cause of RA, and it can occur at any age. There is no known prevention other than not smoking. Research shows that women who smoke are twice as likely to get RA as non-smokers.

Women again are affected more often than men. This disease usually requires lifelong treatment including medication, physical therapy, exercise, education and possible surgery for joint replacements, which is similar to the other autoimmune diseases.

The common drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are Methotrexate, DMARD, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, Plaquenil, and Azulfidine. There are several new medications available for RA patients, much more so than other auto-immune diseases. Xeljanz/Xeljanz XR is a newer pill that targets and blocks cells causing inflammation, and it blocks other RA symptoms. This medication should not be taken if the patient has an infection as it compromises the bodies ability to fight infections.

Drugs that specifically treat the inflammation are Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade. There are also some drugs that are called white blood cell modulators to control inflammation called Orencia and Rituxan. Many of these drugs have some serious side effects and patients are monitored closely. Unfortunately, these drugs do no work with systemic lupus patients or other autoimmune diseases.

Physical therapy is important, with individualized exercise programs to prevent the loss of joint function. Hot and cold treatments and splints may be used to support and align joints.

Rheumatoid Effect on Hands

X-ray of arthritic damage to woman's hands.

X-ray of arthritic damage to woman's hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis

There are possible serious complications, such as rheumatoid vasculitis, which is an inflammation of the blood vessels and pericarditis which causes the outer lining of the heart to swell. Fortunately, these complications are not too common.

Prognosis: Regular blood and urine tests are used to determine how well the medications are working. RA differs from person to person. People who have the rheumatoid factor found in the blood test or those with subcutaneous nodules seem to develop a more severe form of the disease.

I have a friend that has these nodules throughout her lungs, so she is on oxygen, and her life is severely impaired. It is hard to see my friend suffer and know there is no cure. Other people with RA work full time but after many years 10% of those will become severely disabled.

Drug Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Summary

Rheumatoid arthritis is a very painful and serious disease. It can affect all the organs in your body and become disabling through the years. There are some new medications that seem to be effective in stopping the progression of the disease.

There is a lot of research being done on RA, and there are new medications on the horizon so patients are living longer overall and having a little better quality of life.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on June 20, 2010:

Alden, I am sorry to hear about your wife. There are so many new medications coming out for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis that maybe there will be one that will help. Thanks for your comment and I wish you and your wife the best.

Aiden Roberts from United Kingdom on June 19, 2010:

Thank you for a very informative article. My wife has been a sufferer for many years but sadly the medical team have never got it under control.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 08, 2010:

Brenda, Thank you very much for your comment.

Brenda Massey on March 08, 2010:

Good hub on RA. Well written.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on March 01, 2010:

Catluv, I will get back to you in an email. I found a lot of information of the internet and will have to check my sources.

catluv on March 01, 2010:

Hi, very informative and well written hub. Was wondering where you found the complete list of the 80 auto immune conditions and where I can locate it? Doctors seem to keep this type of info very private. Thanks for your hub and help! Brenna

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 24, 2010:

Michael, Yes, it is a serious disease. Thank you for your comment.

Michael Jay on February 24, 2010:

This hub is really helpful and very informative. Rheumatoid arthritis is a really serious disease.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 16, 2010:

Thank you Roberta for your compliment.

Roberta99 on February 16, 2010:

I didn't know all those things about this disease. Very well researched article.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on February 14, 2010:

nice information. It useful for us. I'll bookmark this hub and I rate this. good work Pamela.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 11, 2010:

Hello, Thanks again for your comments.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on February 11, 2010:

I am sorry to hear that and I hope this will help. That clinic and that lady swore by it. My best wishes.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 11, 2010:

Thank you both for your comments. I agree arthritis is on the rise of all types and we need more understanding of heathy treatments.

HealthyHanna from Utah on February 11, 2010:

This is an important article for nearly everybody, as arthritis is on the rise worldwide.

I would like to recommend it on my hub.

theirishobserver. from Ireland on February 11, 2010:

excellent hub, makes mine look very amaturish ha ha, great insight.....did not know this before....very informative

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 11, 2010:

Ken, Yes, I went into a lot of detail which I guess is my style as I try to research carefully when writing a serious hub like this one. Some people who have the disease don't know half of the things I explained. I'm glad yours is limited to your fingers. Thanks you for your comment.

Ken R. Abell from ON THE ROAD on February 11, 2010:

Pamela - Thank you for the education. Not sure I wanted to know that much. :>) I am surprised to now know that there is no known cause. I have it in my fingers & figured it was because I used to crack my knuckles all the time.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 11, 2010:

Nancy, Thank you for your comment. Maybe you aunt has Carpal Tunnel (my neighbor did machine embroidery work in a sewing shop for many years and got Carpal Tunnel) but she should see a doctor. Good wishes for her.

nancy_30 from Georgia on February 10, 2010:

This was a very good article Pamela. My aunt's hands hurt a lot. I don't think shes seen a doctor about it. She always tells me its athritis and its from her working in a sewing factory all of her life. I didn't know that much about this disease and I learned a lot from reading this.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2010:

Hello, Thank you as I have a lot of problem sleeping at night due to pain. I will buy some rosehips and try them.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on February 10, 2010:

Hello, Pamela. me once more. Thereis a specialist clinin in Surrey, UK and a lady who was treated by them with all sorts of medication, had to change constantly because of the side effect, she then was told of that rosehip capsules and apparently she could live without pain. She was so bad that she couldn't sleep at night.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2010:

BPOP, I read about cases that were very mild, but that can all change as we age. Hopefully your friend can continue to remain symptom free. Thanks for the comment.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2010:

Diamond, Thanks for sharing that. I didn't find that link in my research but will check it out.

Lisa, You have had a lot of experience living with this awful disease. There was a time they thought I had it because that's what my bone scan looked like, however, I lupus and other auto-immune diseases. It is not uncommon to have more than one. Thank you so much for your comment.

breakfastpop on February 10, 2010:

Very informative hub, Pamela,

I have a friend who says that she has RA, but does not take any medication for it!

Lisa HW from Massachusetts on February 10, 2010:

Excellent Hub on a widespread and difficult condition. My mother suffered with Rheumatoid Arthritis, beginning when she was in her fifties. My children's father suffers with it because he has another immune system disorder that includes Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Bob Diamond RPh from Charlotte, NC USA on February 10, 2010:

Obesity - "The risk of having moderate to high rheumatoid arthritis disease activity was 9 times higher in those patients who also suffered from metabolic syndrome compared to those rheumatoid arthritis patients who were not burdened by it."

www.healthcentral.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/c/53/29143/diabetes

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2010:

Hello, I don't know about rosehip tablets but I am going to read about them. I think anything natural is better than a pharmaceutical product. Thanks for your input.

Patriot, Your comment is so true. I have that disease also and somehow you choose to not let it stop you from living life the best you can. Thanks for your comment.

Partisan Patriot on February 10, 2010:

Pamela

This is definitely a terrible disease to have to endure. I have Osteo Arthritis which has resulted in both hips being replaced. Life can be cruel sometimes but we all seem to find the strength to make it through the adversity!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on February 10, 2010:

Thank you for a very good hub adn advice about this terrible illness. I have read in the paper that they have over here some or a lot of success with ROSEHIP tablets. Maybe somebody could look into it. It would be wonderful if it would prove to be a help. Also the advantage that there is no side-effects while chemicals bound to damage something else.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 10, 2010:

Tom, Rheumatic fever is a whole other disease. Children usually get it and are sick for weeks. The worst part is the disease often damages their heart. It is not so prevalent today as antibiotics are given more often when people have strept throat or a strept infection. Rheumatoid Arthritis is one of 80 different types of what is called an auto-immune disease. Thanks for your comment.

Tom Whitworth from Moundsville, WV on February 10, 2010:

Pamela,

Is RA connected th rheumatic (sp?) fever? When I was in first grade a girl in my class had rheumatic fever. She missed a lot of school because they said it could damage her heart.

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